Safe Feeding Environment
Birds can become ill from leftover bits of seeds and hulls that have become moldy or from droppings that have accumulated on feeder trays. Therefore, you should clean your seed feeders about once every two weeks, more often during times of heavy use or during warm and damp conditions. Research has found that scrubbing debris off feeders and then soaking them for 10 minutes in a diluted bleach solution is more effective at removing bacteria than using soap and water alone. Mold and contaminated debris can attach to feeders, so to clean them, be sure to take them apart first and remove any visible debris. Then wash them with soap and boiling water. Or soak them for 10 minutes in a diluted bleach solution or one hour in a weak vinegar solution and then scrub with a clean bottle brush. Rinse thoroughly. Or wash them in a dishwasher on a hot setting. Allow to dry completely before refilling. Learn more about the research into cleaning feeders on our blog.
Because mold readily grows in sugar water, hummingbird feeders should be cleaned every time you refill the nectar, which should be every two to five days, depending on the outdoor temperatures. Bacteria and fungi grow more rapidly as the temperature rises. If you see any sign of cloudy water or black mold, discard the solution and clean the feeder immediately.
Also remember to rake the ground below your feeder to prevent accumulation of waste. Moldy or spoiled food is unhealthy not only for birds but also for your outside pets. Bird food scattered on the ground also can attract rodents. Consider moving your feeders periodically to limit the accumulation of waste in any one area.
You can expect a visit from a bird-eating hawk, usually a Sharp-shinned Hawk or a Cooper’s Hawk, at your feeder. In many areas reports of these hawks have been on the rise in recent years. At first you will probably welcome the close-up view, but if your hawk stays around and scares your feeder birds away, what can you do? The best solution is to take your feeders down for a few days. The hawk will get hungry and move on. Be sure to provide cover in your yard where feeder birds can hide from bird-eating hawks. Brush piles and evergreen trees and shrubs can provide safe hiding places.
Ornithologists estimate that millions of birds are killed each year by hitting windows. You can prevent many window strikes simply by breaking up the reflections that birds perceive as a pathway through your home. Some bird watchers have attached streamers or suction-cup feeders to their windows, crisscrossed branches within the window frames, or installed awnings or screens. Hawk “silhouettes” fastened to the window often help, not because they look like hawks, but because they break up the problematic reflections. If you try these tricks and birds continue to strike a window, consider attaching netting to the outside of the window to buffer the impact. Deer netting (the kind used to keep deer from eating plants in your yard) works nicely. Window strike mortalities also can be reduced by moving your feeders to within 3 feet of the window. When feeders are close to a window, a bird leaving the feeder cannot gain enough momentum to do harm if it strikes the window. Learn more about glass collisions and how to prevent them on the All About Birds website and on the American Bird Conservancy website. The latter site includes links to several products you can purchase to break up the reflections in your windows.
Cats are the most numerous pet in North America. Unfortunately, they kill hundreds of millions of birds each year. Ground-feeding and ground-nesting birds and fledglings are at greatest risk. Feeder birds are also easy prey.
If you own a cat, we strongly recommend that you keep it indoors to reduce this needless loss. Your cat will benefit too; statistics show that indoor cats live longer, healthier lives than cats allowed to roam outdoors. The American Bird Conservancy has created the Cats Indoors! Campaign to increase awareness of the problem. For more information, contact: American Bird Conservancy, Cats Indoors!, Third Floor, 1731 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20009. Phone: (202) 234–7182.